The 61-year-old leader of the Italian Left, Pier Luigi Bersani, is a former Communist from a staunchly Catholic family and the son of a petrol station attendant.
He is the only larger-than-life element of the centre-Left Democratic Party, whose calm image is a far cry from the over-the-top personality of his main challenger, Silvio Berlusconi.
Bersani has pledged to continue outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti’s fiscal programme, but he also wants to introduce more pro-growth measures in an attempt to blunt Mr Berlusconi’s persistent claims that austerity has halted economic recovery.
The staunch Europhile, who is calling for the creation of a United States of Europe, is also the front runner in opinion polls ahead of the Italian election.
euronews: “Mr Bersani, if the election had been held a year ago today you would be Italy’s prime minister, but now things definitely appear to be much more complicated. You haven’t ever said that your victory is certain. Berlusconi says he is very close to overtaking you. Do you feel him breathing down your neck?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “First of all, a year ago we did what we had to do for Italy. And we haven’t had any regrets despite Italy’s troubles. Of course, the Right does exist in this country, that’s undeniable. The Right exists and Berlusconi makes populist appeals, he blows his own trumpet. Nevertheless, I don’t feel the Right is breathing down my neck because I’m sensing a will to change throughout the country and therefore I feel very confident about our electoral results.”
euronews: “You received a warm welcome in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, your team members flew to London to sooth the City’s bankers, and now you’re here on euronews to speak to the people of Europe. Do you get the feeling the whole of Europe, including right-wingers, is cheering for you?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “What I’ve often perceived is a deep concern about a result that could confirm Berlusconi’s “eternal comeback”, because I think Europe clearly saw how Berlusconi’s Italy crippled the very idea of Europe, its credibility. So, yes, my perception is that we have a responsibility to win, not only for Italy, but also for the whole of Europe. And not just for left-wing Europe.”
euronews: “In Europe it is still not clear whether Monti is a right-wing moderate or a left-wing Christian-Democrat. What’s your take on this?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “We’re currently having the same discussions in Italy; therefore we haven’t reached a proper definition yet: let’s say Monti is a moderate liberal with, lately, some of the “flavour” of a Christian-Democrat. He says that he had advice from Obama advisor David Axelrod, and so called “gurus” like him generally advise attacking your opponent and making promises. Therefore, we saw some kind of “conversion”, we have a new Monti in front of us. Frankly I don’t know what to think… It will be for the voters to decide!”
euronews: “Your party’s slogan is: L’ITALIA GIUSTA (‘The Right Italy’). How would Italy change with you as its prime minister?
Pier Luigi Bersani: ‘The Right Italy’ means an Italy that, for starters, perceives itself as a country restored – from a moral standpoint. Then, it’s all about sobriety in politics, it’s about creating serious laws against corruption, against conflicts of interest, and in favour of free and open markets.
“It’s about upholding rights, like those rights we have in Europe: children of immigrants, homosexual couples, gender equality, the right to education, the right of workers to have a say in the decisions made by a company, and so on. And, building on that, it’s about work: ‘The Right Italy’ is made up of an Italy that can have more work and so, to sum up, we need to focus on the real economy, which we all have lost sight of, and I intend to re-ignite the passion of Italy and Italians for the real economy: our companies, our job, and ‘Made-in-Italy’. That’s our starting point!”
euronews: “How do you feel about leading Italy without having full support from the financial markets?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “I believe that the financial markets are a variable that cannot be ignored. I think the markets can read Italy’s economic situation. The size of our economy makes us too big a country to be saved with a bailout, so we must continue the recovery policies, budgetary control, stability, however the markets say we do not have enough growth, we are in too deep a recession, and no one adjusts their budgets when they are in a long term recession. And so you have to combine strict policies with growth policies. We ask for this to happen at the European level, we should make it happen in Italy.”
euronews: “Mr Bersani, you decided to have former anti-mafia State attorney Piero Grasso running for your party, is this a clear warning against organised crime? And are you thinking about him as a possible minister of justice?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “Piero Grasso is certainly a personality of great importance and his presence indicates precisely my intention to declare war on crime and to take a strong stance against crime. Let’s not forget that, in times of crisis, crime prospers thanks to its financial resources!”
euronews: “But Berlusconi says it is his Government that put all the criminals in jail…”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “Berlusconi says a lot of things! Unfortunately, criminals are still around and their “dirty economy” is still penetrating the clean economy.”
euronews: “About the ‘black hole’ of youth unemployment – which is particularly high in southern Italy, but also in all European countries – what would be your strategy on that, if you become prime minister?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “It’s clear that there is no silver bullet but we certainly need to improve some of the rules regarding work and temporary jobs. But rules alone do not create jobs. Work is generated with consumption and investment. Therefore, my recipe is to seek fiscal and economic policies which will encourage private and public investment, and re-ignite consumerism. These are the main priorities if we really want to talk about employment. And, in 2014, we have to fix a target and put a “plus” sign in front of our employment figures.”
euronews: “In Europe everyone’s anxiously awaiting the outcome of Italian elections. But, if the centre-right coalition conquers the Lombardy region, they’ve already said they will create a “European northern macro region” by merging it with the Piedmont and Veneto regions. Not the best business card to present in Brussels, don’t you think?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “These are crazy and populist propositions by the Northern League. These are policies that led to trouble and are inspired by a culture of narrow-mindedness, regression and barriers. This is what they are! Honestly, I believe that the North of the country has understood that all this is leading us nowhere!”
euronews: “Last question, Mr Bersani. Unlike Berlusconi and Monti you chose not to appear on television a lot – so let me thank you for agreeing to this interview – you’ve instead chosen to campaign around the country. Did you find, the “Right” Italy, among the people?”
Pier Luigi Bersani: “I found a very angry Italy, but I think that, at least the Italy close to us, wants to bring about a change in government. To this Italy I say that protests by themselves will not take us anywhere. But even government without change will lead us nowhere. Therefore, the synthesis between change and government is what we have been proposing while travelling across the land. We are a great popular party and we cannot disregard an effective presence on the territory. This is our atomic weapon and, with this, we will win.”